Aquarius: It woke up Nimbin

Madison Haley from Gilchrist Management, photographed for the 40th anniversy of The Aquarius Festival and surrounded by flowers provided by The Enchanted Florist, Lismore. Photo Patrick Gorbunovs / The Northern Star
Madison Haley from Gilchrist Management, photographed for the 40th anniversy of The Aquarius Festival and surrounded by flowers provided by The Enchanted Florist, Lismore. Photo Patrick Gorbunovs / The Northern Star Patrick Gorbunovs

IT WAS 40 years ago on Sunday when the vanguard of the Australian countercultural movement of up to 10,000 people converged on Nimbin for a 10-day festival that would change the region forever.

Then a half-empty "ghost town", Nimbin was quickly transformed into a grand alternative lifestyle experiment that continues today.

From complementary medicine to recycling, world music and meditation - it was all on show at Aquarius.

While it is often labelled "Australia's Woodstock", local poet David Hallett said there were stark differences between the two.

He recalled a series of spontaneous "festivals within festivals", an abundance of "homespun music", and a plethora of alternative modalities from the practical to the esoteric. "It was very much a do-it-yourself festival," Mr Hallett said.

"For many people it was the first time they had got into jamming and the whole diversity of exotic instruments - Indian tablas, dulcimers, mandolins."

SCU cultural studies lecturer and Aquarius researcher Dr Rob Garbutt was an 11-year-old "straight" Lismore kid in 1973 when he visited the festival with his parents.

Dr Garbutt said some of the DIY innovations pioneered at the festival were impressive.

And despite the cliches, it wasn't all nudity and drugs.

"For some it was simply sitting around campfires and talking," Dr Garbutt said.

Other festival features included a healing centre, a learning exchange, and a food co-operative.

Historically, it was a unique moment in time where the feeling was one of both hope and a desperate need for change.

"There was a sense that something had to happen - that there was a crisis looming. We were coming out of the Vietnam era but still in the Cold War," Dr Garbutt said.

"The paradox of it was they also had a sense that anything was possible."




  • Today and Sunday: Aquarius in Lovemore at the Star Court Theatre, Lismore: Films, concerts and forums.
  • Today from 11am: Not Quite Square documentary followed by lunchtime concert, healing forum, and variety concert.
  • Tomorrow from 11am: Once Around the Sun documentary, 5pm: The Echo Doco: Born to be Trouble.
  • Cost: $30 day passes, plus individual session passes.
  • Sunday: The Channon Market celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Aquarius Festival, with guest speakers, a photography exhibition, and a few surprises.
  • All weekend: Not Quite Square at the Lismore Regional Gallery showcasing the history of owner-built housing in the region.

Topics:  aquarius festival

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